OEMs and GPL Compliance

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At XDA, we like open source. In fact, you could say we love it. We have a GPL policy to ensure users understand the best ways to follow the GPL, and ensure others can make use of their work to improve all our devices.

Unfortunately though, OEMs often lag behind the efforts of the hobbyist third-party developers. While some OEMs are very commendable with their source releases (namely Sony, on numerous occasions, going above and beyond what is GPL licensed, releasing AOSP device trees), a lot of other OEMs take a lot longer to release sources. But they eventually do, and we should applaud them for that.

Unfortunately though, lately there have been a number of users getting in touch with us to try and raise awareness about some OEMs that do not follow the GPL license, and release devices with Linux kernels but refuse to release the source code. Among the companies we’ve been contacted about, Micromax and Rockchip are two that spring to mind.

One of our forum members contacted Micromax to request GPL source code for their kernel and was met with the following response:

Thank you for your Email, we would like to inform you that we can not provide any kernel source code from our end.

Unfortunately, this Micromax staff worker confirmed that they would not provide GPL-mandated kernel source code, and thus admitted to breaking the GPL. I have no doubt that some people reading this article will have code contributed to the main Linux kernel, and would be in a position to enforce their copyright against Micromax.

With regards to Rockchip, the makers of the popular low-cost RK29xx and RK30xx chipsets often seen in “TV stick” style devices, there are also GPL compliance issues, Specifically, some of the source files have been removed, and left with only the compiled “object files” in place. This permits a kernel to be built from source, but does not satisfy the full requirements of the GPL (as these object files are built directly into the main kernel). This prevents users from modifying a number of important drivers.

We’d love to reach out to Rockchip and Micromax, to help them to become GPL compliant. In addition to maintaining legality, the benefits of following the GPL also include the ability to merge code from the community back into their source trees, thus saving them time and money with fixes. Unfortunately, neither has returned our emails. And while we would still welcome them to get in touch (they can do so at pulser _(at)_ xda-developers.com), it appears likely neither is interested in taking action.

The question is now whether the community can create the necessary pressure to ensure that the law is upheld by abiding by the GPL. We contacted Micromax prior to the publication of this article, and received no response to our request for comment.


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